As we approach the deadline for the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the start of the Sustainable Development Goals, at the end of 2015, this paper asks: how did governments respond at the national level to the set of global development goals in the form of the MDGs?
Using five case study countries: Indonesia, Turkey, Mexico, Nigeria and Liberia, to reflect a mix of regions, income classifications and MDG performance, the paper draws out common trends and suggests five lessons for the post-2015 era:
1. Countries are more likely to succeed in those international goal areas where priorities already exist. Politically contentious goals, such as climate change, will require more work.
2. Monitoring agencies will need to be realistic about how long it will be before SDG progress becomes visible. Serious commitments to implement the MDGs were only made by governments after a 10 year gap, though SDG implementation may be quicker.
3. National priorities are often at odds to the needs of local areas. The examples of Indonesia, Turkey and Mexico demonstrate tensions due to regional inequality and a lack of local tailoring of the goals.
4. Middle Income Countries (MICs) and Low Income Countries (LICs) have different motivations for adopting the goals. For MICs, engagement was often to further strategic regional interests, while for LICs subscription to the language and process of the MDGs appears to be related to accessing overseas direct aid. For the SDGs, this means international doners will need to engage in different ways depending on the country context
5. There is a lack of research on the national implementation of the MDGs meaning analysis is difficult. Monitoring the pace and political drivers behind adoption and prioritisation of SDG targets on a regular basis would provide crucial data for reviewing and evaluating the SDGs.